The Chris Kennedy Factor

Scrambling the U.S. Senate race

Up until now, Lisa Madigan has been viewed as the big domino in state politics whose decision on what to do next would set off a chain reaction among office-seekers in both parties.

For example, if she runs for governor she'll be challenging incumbent Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary - but leaving the U.S. Senate field to, presumably, Alexi Giannoulias and Jan Schakowsky. She would also open up a race for attorney general, likely drawing a Republican candidate vastly stronger than one who would challenge a simple Madigan re-election bid for her current post. And so on - you can go through all the permutations yourself.

But it turns out that Merchandise Mart mogul and famous family heir Chris Kennedy might be the big domino instead. His entry into the U.S. Senate race scrambles the picture even more; Madigan becomes a domino being fallen upon, not the domino doing the falling.

To be sure, Madigan's interest in the Senate race seems awfully iffy. And it's not as if two rich boys - Kennedy and Giannoulias - slugging it out in the primary wouldn't leave her an opening. But does she really have the will to fight that battle?

Her choice seems to be challenging Quinn or staying where she is.

The more interesting question is Giannoulias. How would his single term as state treasurer and the former vice presidency of his family's bank stack up against Kennedy's longer resume as a businessman, civic leader and public figure? Of course, we haven't seen Kennedy give a stump speech, but you have to wonder if Giannoulias will re-evaluate. He might even think about taking on Quinn.

The distasteful specter of two rich white boys running to replace the Senate's only African American, Roland Burris, raises the possibility of a black candidate entering the race. A black woman would be even better, but Toni Preckwinkle is running for Cook County Board president. Cheryle Jackson?

Or maybe Robin Kelly, an aide to Giannoulias who wants to succeed him as state treasurer, will step into that gap. That would be as ironic as Ald. Sandi Jackson making the run instead of husband Jesse Jackson Jr.

Republicans with designs on the treasurer's office - possibly including Giannoulias's predecessor, Judy Baar Topinka - will have a go at it anyway, but they might actually find it easier to field a candidate against a Kennedy than anyone else by getting behind a Downstate type like state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, who is currently in the governor's race but you never know. Maybe he'll be a domino, too.

Seems like U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, perhaps the strongest Republican candidate for senate or governor, may just try to hold on to his House seat.

In any case, it looks like Kennedy is the big domino now. Your move, Lisa.

Steve Rhodes is the founder of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review. He previously covered politics for Chicago magazine for six years.

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